Dyslexia – is it Good or Bad?

Jumbled up letters representing DyslexiaAs children, things can be good or bad; happy or sad; safe or scary. As adults, we know the world is not always so cleanly divided. So it is with dyslexia. Dyslexia is a specific kind of learning disability. It affects a person’s ability to read, write and spell. It’s known that dyslexia begins with the brain, not the eyes or hands. It can’t be cured and will be part of a person’s life beyond school years. Its effects are apparent even to young children – a student with a disability likely feels different from the other students. They may even be targeted because of this difference. But, people with dyslexia, though literally different, are perfectly smart and capable.

And, different needn’t be categorized into ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ The following thoughts are meant to assist individuals, parents and teachers reframe their view of dyslexia as neutral or even positive.

Lesson #1

The saying, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” has been repeated and rephrased for years. Could disability be in the eyes of the beholder, as well?

Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift, though a lampoon of British society and politics written in the early 1700’s, illustrates the nature of normalcy and differences.

Gulliver leaves England and encounters foreign lands and peoples. He doesn’t change size, intelligence or his behavior. It is his environments that change. The people he meets are shocked and amazed by his difference from them. They display a range of reactions to his ‘disabilities’ as well. The Lilliputians grow bitter at having to accommodate his large difference in size and needs. The Brobdingnags humiliatingly adopt him as kind of “cute” mascot and charge money to see him; here, his difference even makes him vulnerable to being eaten or crushed. Next, among scientists, academicians and historians, Gulliver discovers they have no more certainty or answers than he does. Finally, in a land ruled by rational and speaking horses, Gulliver is accepted into nobility and happy; but, this comes to a quick end when the horses discover his physical difference from them – his body is like the savage Yahoo’s, to whom he is banished.

So, is Gulliver disabled? His encounters were merely coincidental, but he suffered because of his differences. Is his suffering the disability? Are the societies he interacts with disabled? Are they worth educating about his differences?

Lesson #2

Gulliver’s differences were obvious. Dyslexia is a hidden disability and easily misunderstood. Difficulty reading and writing in primary grades may get dismissed as immaturity or distractibility. Delays in elementary or middle school may get labeled as laziness, too many video games, improper early instruction or distractibility. These kinds of denials and doubts lead to self-questioning and low self-confidence. Low self-confidence may even be more crippling than dyslexia because it can affect many areas of life, not just school.

In the end, an emotionally wounded Gulliver isolated himself from other people. So we must always remember and never forget to help our children and our students capitalize on the good. This can be done in many ways:

  • Use a fancy font and print a list of positive characteristics unique to your child or student – good friend, easy to get along with, good with money, courteous.
  • Design a “Positive Me Scrapbook” – include photos from infancy to the present, photos of special activities, special people, first words, special cards or messages received.
  • Create opportunities to shine – if your child or student is a young expert on turtles, local history, etc., help them design a workshop to deliver at the town library or outdoor education center.
  • Learn other fun skills – your child or student might enjoy learning magic tricks, juggling, origami or drawing. These skills and talents can be drawn upon in many situations and can help bolster self-image.

Some people consider dyslexia a gift.

Diana Hanbury King, school founder, author, international speaker on dyslexia, once said, “If I were stranded on a deserted island, I would want to have a person with dyslexia with me.” Because, with dyslexia comes skills which are fundamental to humankind’s survival. These include abilities with science and engineering – useful for understanding one’s environment and physically adapting to it. A person with dyslexia tends to score high with visio-spatial related skills. These include thinking in pictures (non-verbal thought) and intuiting pictures (two dimensions) in three dimensions, including orientation, space, scaling sizes and proportions. These skills are necessary for building, critical/medical self-care, environmental safety and using location or mapping skills. Visio-spatial skills are also necessary for socializing – to be able to “read” and respond appropriately to a person’s emotions or state of mind. Indeed, these abilities would be welcome in any survivalist situation.